Thursday, September 3, 2015

Protecting the Heart of the Southwest - Our Commitment to End Fracking in the Greater Chaco Region

It is almost fall in the Greater Chaco Region of Northwestern New Mexico - the perfect time to experience all the natural and cultural richness the Region has to offer. The days are still warm and the evenings are beginning to flirt with cooler temperatures, hinting at the return of winter. The extensive Ancestral Puebloan ruins that run throughout the landscape make this the ancient cultural heart of the American Southwest. Geometric shadows from ancient ruins stretch across mesas as the sun rises and sets on this quiet iconic landscape. Tragically, this landscape won’t be quiet for long.

Just beyond these shadows that seem to go on forever, a threat is looming. A new well is being drilled to tap into the Mancos Shale, just one of many wells that will extract thousands of barrels of oil. Miles of pipeline and fracking equipment are being hauled in on large trucks, and webs of new roads and pipelines are dissecting large areas of habitat occupied by lizards, bobcats, and birds. The noise from the development is deafening. The local Navajo communities are also suffering.

This July, WildEarth Guardians and our partners at the Western Environmental Law Center headed to district court to slow the pace of Mancos Shale development in the Greater Chaco Region. We asked the court to suspend drilling operations until the court ruled on our case, a step necessary to protect the natural and cultural resources of the Greater Chaco Region for generations to come. On July 13, 2015, we dueled for eight long hours with the Bureau of Land Management’s attorneys and those that represent the industry over the agency’s rubber-stamping of drilling approvals that will lead to irreversible destruction of both natural and cultural resources in the Greater Chaco Region.

On August 15, the judge denied our request to temporarily suspend Mancos Shale drilling operations. Despite the lack of environmental review or a comprehensive plan for horizontal drilling and multistage fracking in the Greater Chaco Region, the Bureau of Land Management will be allowed to continue to grant hundreds or even thousands of new permits to drill and frack the Region without understanding the environmental impacts of this drilling or a plan to prevent environmental destruction.  And while we are disappointed by the judge’s decision to protect the profits of the oil and gas companies, this decision ignites rather than rattles our determination to push onward.

On August 18, we appealed the judge’s decision allowing this destructive drilling to continue to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, asking that Court to force the district judge to reconsider his decision to allow horizontal drilling and multistage fracking to continue while our lawsuit progresses.  We will press on and prepare additional targeted legal action as the court process continues, and we remain optimistic that the Tenth Circuit will recognize that the lower court’s decision to allow drilling to continue in the Greater Chaco Region was wrong because the district court judge misapplied the law.

Your support sends Guardians into courtrooms with credibility and the commitment to keep the scales balanced, not tipped in favor of those with the heaviest pocketbook.  We believe that Guardians like you are in the majority. Your voice, along with more than 165,000 petition signers will be what is echoed between Chaco Canyon’s walls, not the splitting of rocks as a drill rig rips through the Earth, forcing thousands of gallons of toxic water through her veins.

You allow us to engage in vital legal battles and fight on the frontlines for the rights of all species and communities. Please supportour work today and enable us to stay in the fight. Together we will win this one. 

For the Wild,

Claire Noel Nickel

Photo Credits: WildEarth Guardians

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